Grief comes in many different forms. Everyone will experience grief at some point in their life, and the loss of a pet is just as much a real part of grief as losing a human loved one. Here at Petrest we’ve spent many years helping owners through their grief and giving support where necessary, and we’ve learnt a few things along the way.
The Five Stages of Grief
There is much discussion about the “five stages of grief”, a quick internet search will bring up a plethora of information and websites that make the process seem quite straightforward, but is it? In a word: No. While the five general stages of grief are similar for most people (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) the process of grief is hugely different from person to person.
“Do you not know that a man is not dead when his name is spoken” Terry Pratchett
Our bereavement advisors have helped in writing this article to make sure the advice we give is as helpful as can be. We hope that the following twelve pieces of advice may be helpful in your time of need. These can be applied to any grief (human, animal, or otherwise) and it’s not an exhaustive list, but we hope it can help in some way.
In no particular order, here are our twelve pieces of advice from our bereavement advisors:
Grief comes in waves – This is something most people don’t realise. You may feel OK one day, maybe even quite jovial. Other days you might feel a terrible sadness over taking you. This is normal. Somebody once described grief like a sea tide. At first the waves are big and crash into you like a brick wall collapsing, but as the side goes out the waves lessen. They never quite go away, but they get more gentle over time.
Don’t feel guilty for feeling – Whether you’re laughing or crying, don’t feel guilty. Remember that your loved one, who has passed, wanted the best for you. This is especially true for a loved pet that would have been happy to see you happy. So don’t feel guilty if you feel like laughing and smiling, but also don’t feel guilty if you feel like having a little cry. These emotions may be mixed up, but feeling them will help.
Take time to remember & talk – Some people deal with grief by clamming up and trying to ignore that their loved one (or pet) was ever a part of their life. In the case of a pet it might be removing all toys and beds, leads, treats, food, etc. So that no trace of the pet is left in the house. Some people find this is the easiest way to cope with the initial grief. We’d suggest not getting rid of all of your pet’s toys or blankets straight away, because talking about them and remembering good memories is great medicine.
Laughter is the best medicine – Just like good memories, being able to laugh will do you wonders. It’s OK not to feel like laughing all the time, but when you remember a funny story or “do you remember when Fido did…” go with it, and laugh.
Don’t “make yourself busy” – We hear this so
much. Keep yourself busy to avoid feeling the grief. For most people, it doesn’t really work. Instead occupy yourself, but allow yourself to feel the grief.
Grief doesn’t “just go away” – Hoping for the day that the grief “goes away” isn’t healthy. Grief gets easier to deal with in time, but its far better to work through the emotions.
There will be trigger memories – Anything can bring on a memory. Perhaps a smell, or a visit to you and your pet’s favourite place. Perhaps you find his ball in the garden. These trigger memories can be hard at first, but we always advise to try to remember the good times. Different faiths have different explanations, but the idea that a trigger memory is there to remind you that your loved one is still around, is really nice.
Don’t expect too much of people – this one is a hard one, but worth knowing beforehand. Don’t expect your friends and loved ones to say the right thing, or to be there for you in the exact moment you need them. Remember everyone deals with grief differently and this doesn’t mean they care any less, but they will never know the exact right thing to say.
Don’t expect too much too soon – Grief has no time limit. It’s not something you’ll just “get over in a week” as some would prefer. Take the time you need and don’t expect you should be feeling better within a certain time frame.
It’s OK to be angry – Anger is one of the five stages of grief that mostly everyone goes through. You may feel shocked to realise you feel angry towards your loved one (or pet) for leaving you. This is normal. Try to redirect that anger and not dwell on it, but it is still a normal aspect to grief.
Time does not heal alone – The old adage of ‘time heals everything’ isn’t as true as it seems. For most people time does make things easier, however for those that are still struggling with their grief then the support of a trained councilor may help.
Don’t reach for unhealthy distractions – some people will say ‘keep yourself busy’ when you’re grieving. This works to numb the grief. The problem is when that doesn’t work; some people will turn to other unhealthy substances to numb the feeling. If you feel that your grief is out of control, and you’re considering turning to anything such as alcohol or drugs, please speak to a doctor.
We hope you found some comfort in our twelve tips. Grief is a tricky and very personal process for everyone. Take it as it comes, and don’t be afraid to reach out if you need to.